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House bill changes child custody parameters

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The House of Delegates has passed and sent to the Senate a bill that would give both parents in divorce a presumption of joint custody and shared parenting of their children.

The House passed the bill 59-38 after an extended debate Wednesday over whether the bill would be beneficial to families or create additional hardships for children of divorce.

HB 4648 states that “co-equal shared legal and physical custody with both of the child’s parents is in the best interest of the child,” meaning that divorce cases begin with a presumption of joint custody.

However, that presumption can be altered in cases of incompetence, neglect or abuse and that would change the parenting responsibilities.

Bill sponsor Delegate Geoff Foster, R-Putnam, said the research shows that children of divorce have better outcomes when both the mother and the father participate in the parenting.

“If they (children) are going to have to suffer through the catastrophe of divorce, we should at least keep both of those parents in those children’s lives and give them the best chance of success,” he said during House floor debate.

Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, a lawyer who handles divorce cases, argued it is unrealistic to start a divorce with 50-50 parenting responsibilities because of the animosity between spouses in most cases.

“You’re trying to pass policy that doesn’t apply to the reality out there,” he said.

The bill is modeled after a first-in-the-nation joint-custody law that passed overwhelmingly in the Kentucky Legislature two years ago.

Matt Hancock, Kentucky vice-chair of the National Parents Organization, has called the measure “the best shared parenting law in the nation.”

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